Last week, I posted a blog regarding the increased use of officer-worn video technology in police departments. This post generated a few questions from govWin users about whether these devices constitute an invasion of privacy. While I am by no means a constitutional scholar, nor do I intend to champion either side of the argument, I would like to take a moment to highlight some of the issues raised.
One of the first things to consider when discussing possible compromises of privacy is whether situations captured by the cameras are really private in the first place. These cameras record police-to-citizen interaction from the point of view of the officer. For all intents and purposes, these interactions are "on the record" regardless of if they are recorded or not. Anything a citizen does or says could potentially end up in a police report, and the video helps to serve as an arbiter if there is a discrepancy between a citizen's account of a situation and the report.
The most comparable law enforcement technologies to officer-worn video are in-car video units. These devices, mounted on the dash of a police cruiser, generally record any activity that takes place while the light bar is engaged. It is easy to make the argument that if recording a traffic stop is not an invasion of privacy, then the same rule should apply to recording a stop that takes place on foot. These videos are usually considered public information and available via public records requests (obviously, this varies per jurisdiction).
One reason police officers I have spoken to say they want body-mounted cameras is because they are already being recorded by the public. A quick search on YouTube reveals dozens of violent encounters between officers and citizens recorded by passers-by with cell phone cameras. Officers feel these recordings tend to miss the catalysts to the confrontations and they would like to have their point of view considered alongside the cell phone videos.
While I have pointed out how these recordings can make both officers and citizens feel comfortable that neither party will act inappropriately while being recorded, it is also worth noting that increased surveillance makes many people uncomfortable. The idea that the government is actively recording their conversations with police officers will not sit well with those who view public surveillance and in-car video units as extensions of a big-brother state.
Successful vendors need to be aware that these questions exist and be prepared to respond to citizens' concerns of privacy. If these concerns surface after a blog posting, they will surely surface when a police department goes to the city council for funding approval.
For an in-depth look at the privacy implications of police technology, check out the International Chiefs of Police (IACP) report: Privacy Impact Assessment Report for the Utilization of License Plate Readers